When I worked a newspaper editor 20 years ago, I would have been shocked to hear about a deal like this one between a hospital and a TV station.
Today, however, it’s of little surprise. That’s because the line between editorial and advertising is blurred, and it’s getting fuzzier by the minute.
WEAU TV-13 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin tried to negotiate a deal with the local Sacred Heart Hospital in which the station would air medical stories featuring personnel only from that hospital and its affiliates, but not employees of other Chippewa Valley hospitals or clinics.
TV news director Glen Mabie was so outraged that he resigned. He said he was unsure whether the hospital would pay TV-13 as part of the agreement but that the exclusive deal posed an obvious conflict of interest.
The company decided not to proceed with the agreement, but the local newspaper got wind of it. You can read the entire story headlined “Ethics Displute Leads to Resignation of WEAU News Director.”
I ran this by my friend, TV producer Shawne Duperon, for her comments:
“Yikes! Kudos to Glen Mabie for taking an ethical stand. Coming from a health reporter background, this would be a nightmare as a journalist! WEAU was completely crossing every ethical boundary that literally holds the newsroom together.
“In news, everything is about finding many sources (angles) to help you tell stories for the community. It would be like only talking to the NAACP for all civil rights issues.
“Creating a deal would also alienate all the other medical resources, organizations and clinics in the community. The deal could only fall flat on its face because it violates the very existence of journalistic news gathering processes.”
My own take is that the stench from all that bad publicity is as harmful to the hospital as it is to the TV station. So if media outlets offer you a deal like this one, run the other way.
Besides, smart Publicity Hounds don’t have to sleaze their way onto TV. Shawne, who was my guest during a teleseminar a few years ago on “How to Get onto the Local TV News Tomorrow,” says it’s easy to get on the local news and that a well-delivered pitch to the newsroom in the morning can sometimes get you onto the news that night.